# 6.1A: The Nature of Groups

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Learning Objectives

• Contrast the social cohesion-based concept of a social group with the social identity concept

In the social sciences, a social group is two or more humans who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and have a collective sense of unity. This is a very broad definition, as it includes groups of all sizes, from dyads to whole societies. A society can be viewed as a large group, though most social groups are considerably smaller. Society can also be viewed as people who interact with one another, sharing similarities pertaining to culture and territorial boundaries.

A social group exhibits some degree of social cohesion and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop or people waiting in a line. Characteristics shared by members of a group may include interests, values, representations, ethnic or social background, and kinship ties. One way of determining if a collection of people can be considered a group is if individuals who belong to that collection use the self-referent pronoun “we;” using “we” to refer to a collection of people often implies that the collection thinks of itself as a group. Examples of groups include: families, companies, circles of friends, clubs, local chapters of fraternities and sororities, and local religious congregations.

Renowned social psychologist Muzafer Sherif formulated a technical definition of a social group. It is a social unit consisting of a number of individuals interacting with each other with respect to:

1. common motives and goals;
2. an accepted division of labor;
3. established status relationships;
4. accepted norms and values with reference to matters relevant to the group; and
5. the development of accepted sanctions, such as raise and punishment, when norms were respected or violated.

Explicitly contrasted with a social cohesion-based definition for social groups is the social identity perspective, which draws on insights made in social identity theory. The social identity approach posits that the necessary and sufficient conditions for the formation of social groups is “awareness of a common category membership” and that a social group can be “usefully conceptualized as a number of individuals who have internalized the same social category membership as a component of their self concept. ” Stated otherwise, while the social cohesion approach expects group members to ask “who am I attracted to? ” the social identity perspective expects group members to simply ask “who am I? ”

## Key Points

• A social group exhibits some degree of social cohesion and is more than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals.
• Social cohesion can be formed through shared interests, values, representations, ethnic or social background, and kinship ties, among other factors.
• The social identity approach posits that the necessary and sufficient conditions for the formation of social groups is the awareness that an individual belongs and is recognized as a member of a group.
• The social identity approach posits that the necessary and sufficient conditions for the formation of social groups is the awareness that the individual belongs and is recognized as a member of a group.

## Key Terms

• social group: A collection of humans or animals that share certain characteristics, interact with one another, accept expectations and obligations as members of the group, and share a common identity.
• The social identity approach: Posits that the necessary and sufficient condition for the formation of social groups is awareness of a common category membership.
• The social cohesion approach: More than a simple collection or aggregate of individuals, such as people waiting at a bus stop, or people waiting in a line.

6.1A: The Nature of Groups is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.